Gillian Murphey didn't look like a chemical engineer with her ponytail, braces, straw fedora and green goo all over her hands.
But the 13-year-old Glen Carbon girl and her partner, Selena Martin, 14, of New Baden, were hunkered over a table in a classroom at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, trying to come up with the perfect formula for a bouncy ball.
Their final product was about the size of a jawbreaker. Gillian threw it at the floor and watched excitedly as it bounced more than 3 feet, higher than anyone else's ball.
"We added more glue and a little more cornstarch," she explained. "And instead of mixing the liquid in it, we put it in the liquid."
Gillian and Selena were two of about 100 girls in fifth through eighth grades who showed up for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day last weekend. It was organized by the SIUE Section of the Society of Women Engineers.
"We want to inspire the next generation of girls to go into engineering," said President Alexis Brown, 20, of Lemont, a mechanical engineering major.
"Studies have shown that if you get girls interested in engineering at a young age, they continue to be interested in it and are more likely to pursue a career in it."
Out of 1,088 engineering students at SIUE, 122 are female. Women make up 13 percent of professional engineers in the United States .
The figure has increased dramatically since Helen Day graduated from college in 1987 and served as a biomedical engineer in the Army. She brought her daughter, Elaine Day, 13, to the SIUE event.
"I wanted to expose her to science," said Helen, 54, of Edwardsville. "She's not too keen on science, and I wanted her to see that science can be fun. I wanted to open up her possibilities.
"And secondly, I wanted her to explore the field of engineering. She knows that Mom was an engineer, but I've been a stay-at-home mom for 16 years."
Activities at the SIUE School of Engineering ranged from building chairs out of newspaper (civil engineering) to using batteries, buzzers and wire to simulate doorbell circuits (electrical).
Chris Wren, 35, a data analyst who lives in Edwardsville, brought his daughter, Alexa, 11.
"My daughter is very analytical," he said. "She excels in math and science. So we thought this would be a great avenue to help her explore her strengths and just to see more applications instead of just formulas."
One of the most popular activities required girls to build cars out of cardboard with CDs for wheels.
SIUE mechanical engineering student Alissa Crandall, 20, of Stronghurst, helped Jessica Glenn, 10, of Edwardsville, wind a rubber band around the axle (a wooden stick) of her car.
Jessica went for a practice run by releasing the car on the floor between two rows of desks. Disappointment sent her back to the drawing board.
"I thought it would go farther," she said. "The record is 13 feet, and it only went about six feet. I guess I didn't wind it up enough."
Jessica attended the event with her twin sister, Jacqueline. Mother Cindy Glenn brought them partly because Jessica loves to "make things."
"There aren't that many opportunities for hands-on activities in engineering," said Cindy, 50, a former computer programmer. "Plus we're on a college campus, and you have college students working with (the girls). It's like an introduction to college."
The SIUE Section of the Society of Women Engineers targeted girls in middle school because many in high school already have picked careers.
Some girls mistakenly believe engineering doesn't involve creativity. Others think students have to make straight As.
"I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the profession," said Section adviser Ying Shang, 38, of Glen Carbon, associate professor in electrical engineering.
"I've been the adviser for seven years, and every time I talk to high school girls, they think engineers work in cubicles, and they can't see themselves in that environment. They don't realize engineers go out in the world and build things."
A handful of male SIUE engineering students helped Alexis and her committee with Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.
"It's a great thing," said Jesse Humphrey, 19, of Galva, a mechanical engineering major. "I don't ever have any girls in my classes. There are a few in my high-level math classes, but none in my engineering classes, and my mom's an engineer."